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Defence will not be Prepared for a Changed Climate

Defence will not be Prepared for a Changed Climate

The world has already missed the opportunity to prevent many of the most serious consequences of Climate Change. Although much has been written on the topic of Climate Change and its causes (manmade or otherwise), the climate is changing and Defence is not prepared for this reality.

The modernisation of the Australian Defence Force to counter climate effects is often couched in terms of the readiness of forces to utilise their current capabilities to conduct disaster relief operations. The only direct effect highlighted in policy documents is the threat of sea level rise on defence infrastructure.This narrow focus has resulted in the Australian Defence Force not doing enough to prepare for our future.

Mark Pelling, in his book “Adaptation to Climate Change: From Resilience to Transformation”, contends that “change at the margins is perhaps the most common response to environmental threat”, where what is actually needed is “progressive risk reduction… [through] …forward looking adaptation”. Current Defence policy documents highlight the need to be prepared to respond to Climate Change While failing to recognise the reality that Defence will be facing the same direct effects as the rest of the community.

There has been a stagnation of thought, especially in relation to Defence’spreparation and procurement of the correct equipment for a changed climate. Responses to Climate Change are generally divided into two distinct categories: mitigation and adaptation. When Defence assesses possible futures it acknowledges what may be possible, and develops ways and means to mitigate any adverse consequences. Often it is a clear counter response to known characteristics of warfare. Defence will always develop mitigation ways and means to deal with threats but they are also increasingly looking at options to develop capabilities to adapt as the system learns from the effects of the threat. This latter response - Adaptation - is the most relevant response to the threat of Climate Change, where the effects are yet unknown.

When militaries look at development of future capabilities they examine trends and possible futures that exist in theory as known unknowns and overlay these with known knowns. To date, climate has been broadly classified as a constant or a known known, which has most likely altered the results of experiments and incorrectly identified the way climate will interact with military capability in the future. With general acceptance by the scientific community and policy makers that certain impacts are “already inevitable”, the idea that climate is a constant must be redacted from future concepts.

Securitisation of Climate Change has distracted the security community from identifying their own vulnerabilities. Whether securitisation is agreed or not, it has resulted in the Australian Defence Force focusing on specific ‘threats’, ignoring the need to conduct detailed analysis of direct climate effects that could impact future capabilities. Although humanitarian operations and infrastructure are important security considerations, the debate has focused on externalising the problem and not forcing the military to critically examine its capabilities through the prism of the complex and rapidly approaching changes to climate.

Climate Change will see higher temperature ranges, increased storm intensity/frequency, higher UV levels, changes in sea state (wind-waves), disruptions in air movements at high altitudes and increased salinity/acid levels of the oceans and rivers to name just a few effects that will adversely impact Defence capability. All of these changes could create considerable gaps in military capabilities if not considered during the requirements phase of capability development. For example:

  1. Increased salinity/acid levels within the oceans and rivers will result in a “decrease of sound absorption”, which may have serious implication for submarine operations.

  2. Increases in UV levels cause degradation of equipment, health risks (physical and mental) to personnel, and affect optical equipment.

  3. Increased COin the atmosphere will see a “10–40% increase in the median strength of turbulence and a 40–170% increase in the frequency of occurrence of moderate-or-greater turbulence”, increasing flight times, causing greater wear and tear on components, and effecting sensitive componentry and missile performance.

  4. A reduction in heights of waves in the northern hemisphere will see a corresponding increase in wave height in the southern hemisphere due to changes in wind patterns caused by Climate Change, affecting naval vessels especially during amphibious operations.

  5. Climate Change will affect the thermosphere where satellites operate, impacting trajectories and how long a satellite will remain in orbit. The influence on the ionosphere may also affect “radio wave propagation, and therefore the performance of the Global Positioning System and other space-based navigation and communication systems.”

  6. With substantial change to temperature ranges and humidity levels, it is likely that soldiers will face greater threats to their health on a more regular basis reducing “productivity of labor” by up to 60%. Climate Change will “harm human health by increasing ground-level ozone and/or particulate matter air”. Defence will also see an increase in the instances of mental health problems, including suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The future changed climate must be considered in all modernisation efforts to ensure equipment and personnel can work effectively, or adapt efficiently, to avoid loss/degradation of a nation’s military capability. In order to incorporate Climate Change effects into the framework of military modernisation the following actions are required:

  1. National Strategic (Defence) planning for Climate Change must be directed through guidance from Government,

  2. A Climate Change Adaptation Strategy needs to be developed to outline the actions required to progress a methodology for Climate Change adaptation,

  3. Climate Change effects on military preparedness must be identified in order to create the imperative for action,

  4. Climate Change effects on military capabilities must be incorporated as a specific area for research and development,

  5. Climate Change effects need to be incorporated into the Future Operational Environment to ensure testing and evaluation thoroughly examines these effects against future forces, structures and equipment.

  6. A Changed Climate must be articulated as a key consideration within the Defence Capability Development process, to ensure equipment and personnel can operate in this changed environment.

The vast majority of scientific evidence supporting a changing climate indicates that the effects for the next century are already set. It is therefore essential that Defence understands the direct effects of Climate Change on military capabilities and develops an appropriate adaptive response.

The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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